Mexican Consul Salvador Jimenez Munoz has retired to work on academic pursuits after serving 33 years for Mexico's Foreign Service.

Deputy consul Eusebio Romero will serve as acting consul until a permanent replacement is named for the consulate, which oversees Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

During his tenure in Utah, Jimenez worked to build economic ties between Utah and Mexico and to establish relationships with the state's top political leaders, said Joe Reyna, former director of the Utah Institute of Mexicans Abroad.

The consul leaves at a time when Utah lawmakers are gearing up to debate several bills dealing with illegal immigration, and Reyna said Jimenez set a high diplomatic bar.

"He is the best diplomat I've ever met," Reyna said. "To create a friendship among Utah politicians is very difficult. ... That friendship is going to be tough to regain."

Jimenez, who could not be reached for comment, had served as the consul in Salt Lake City since Jan. 15, 2004. His post before that had been as deputy consul in Los Angeles.

In a statement, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. called Jimenez "a great friend to Utah."

"His dedication and humility has served Mexicans in Utah well," Huntsman said. "In the tradition of any good diplomat, he has served his country honorably in times of both celebration and sadness, from helping host President Vicente Fox to sitting with mourning families at Crandall Canyon."

During his tenure, Jimenez worked closely with Huntsman's office to secure then-Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit to Utah and advocated for the recent approval of a Mexican consulate in Boise, Reyna said.

The Salt Lake consulate is important to Mexico politically because of its conservatism and also because of the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here, Reyna said. It's also important economically, and Jimenez worked with state officials to bolster trade with Mexico, Reyna said.

Jimenez entered the Mexican Foreign Service in 1974, according to a news release. Jimenez has represented Mexico in the Organization of American States and has also held various posts at embassies in Washington, D.C., Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.

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